Saturday, July 28, 2007

Remember The Rumor You Could Drink Your Own Pee? Well, It May Be As Good As Your Bottled Water!

Remember when? Well, it started with Perrier. Somehow, a snot hole French company convinced American people it's cool to buy bottled water. Today, Evian has surpassed Perrier in sales and now it's the chic water of choice. Why? It costs about 5 bucks a gallon! Why do people pay so much for something they can get virtually free? If they're not buying Evian, they buy Aquafina and Dasani and the dozens of new brands that are jumping into this billion-dollar business, including bizarre ones like Venus, the Water for Women, and Trump Ice, with "The Donald" scowling on the label. I'd have to be very thirsty to buy that.

Yesterday, in a concession to the growing environmental and political opposition to the bottled water industry, PepsiCo Inc. spelled out that its Aquafina bottled water is made with tap water. According to Corporate Accountability International, a U.S. watchdog group, the world's No. 2 beverage company will include the words "Public Water Source" on Aquafina labels. Pepsi's Aquafina and Coca-Cola Co's Dasani are both made from purified water sourced from public reservoirs, as opposed to Danone's Evian or Nestle's Poland Spring, so-called "spring waters," shipped from specific locations the companies say have notably clean water. That's interesting isn't it. Why does Arrowhead water have a plant in South El Monte, California? Have you ever been there? It's a long way from Lake Arrowhead!

"Pepsi and Coke do not make a lot of profit" on bottled water, says a corporate rep, adding that people may talk about the issue, but will likely continue buying some bottled water. Last year, we spent more on Poland Spring, Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent on iPods or movie tickets--$15 billion. It will be $16 billion this year. If the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000. Now we find out that 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi. Welcome to the incredible journey into the economics and psychology of a major business boom. Look what it says about our culture of indulgence.

Bottled water is the food phenomenon of our times. We're a generation raised on tap water and water fountains. We drink a billion bottles of water a week, and we're raising a generation that views tap water with disdain and water fountains with suspicion. We've come to pay good money--two or three or four times the cost of gasoline--for a product we have always gotten, and can still get, for free, from taps in our homes. A chilled plastic bottle of water in the convenience-store cooler is the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel. Yes, it's just a bottle of water--modest compared with the indulgence of driving a Hummer.

Many people say they buy bottled waters because they taste better. We spoke with people in New York City, asking them why they liked bottled better than tap water. "I drink Dasani. It tastes good, it tastes crisp, like -- natural," one girl said. Hello?? You're drinking tap water! The ABC News show "20/20" took five bottles of national brands of bottled water and a sample of tap water from a drinking fountain in the middle of New York City and sent them to microbiologist Aaron Margolin of the University of New Hampshire to test for bacteria that can make you sick, like e. coli. "There was actually no difference between the New York City tap water and the bottled waters that we evaluated," he said. Many scientists have run tests like that and have consistently found that tap water is as good for you as bottled waters that cost 500 times more.

Look at this crap. In the town of San Pellegrino Terme, Italy, a spigot runs all the time, providing San Pellegrino water free to the local citizens - except the free Pellegrino has no bubbles. Pellegrino trucks in the bubbles for the bottling plant. And in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji.of water.

The really big water company in the United States is Nestlé, which gradually bought up the nation's heritage brands, and expanded them. The waters are slightly different--springwater must come from actual springs, identified specifically on the label--but together, they add up to 26% of the market, according to Beverage Marketing, surpassing Coke and Pepsi's brands combined.

Now they've got water that's got vitamins in it. Water that's got some immunity-type benefit to it. Water that helps keep skin younger. Water that gives you energy. Look at the stinkin' tag lines..."Water: It's pure, it's healthy, it's perfect--and we've made it better."

The future of water sounds distinctly unlike water. And once you understand where the water comes from, and how it got here (from the tap!), it's hard to look at that bottle in the same way again.